Installer of Tomorrow
Electrical contracting, like the rest of the construction industry, is in a state of rapid change. The increased demand for skilled labor in many parts of the country coupled with the evolution of building delivery systems, more complex building controls, the proliferation of preconstruction and prefabrication, new technology entering the jobsite and the owner’s demand for compliance to new code and standards changes are all contributing to the need to prepare our next generation electrical workers to meet increasing needs for productivity and expertise.
While contractors are evolving numerous responses to these conditions, training and the deployment of labor cannot be overlooked. The next generation of electrical worker must be prepared to meet these challenges through continued enhancements to apprenticeship programs and continuing education tracks, deployment of productivity technology and a willingness to adopt new, best practices and do it quickly.
Training long ago evolved from strictly textbooks and classroom lecture coupled with hands-on experience to a blended learning process that combines technology like online tools, self paced training and interactive game-like systems that better match the skills of recruits and reflect how people like to learn today. These tools also permit faster changes in subject matter to better reflect the changing needs of the marketplace. Training for trades people needs to continuously evolve so that we aren’t just teaching how we did something yesterday but also how to do things differently in the future – things like think faster, smarter, and more productively, and adapt to industry changes quicker.
ADJUSTING TO NEW TECHNOLOGY
The general consensus within electrical construction is that preplanning, prefabrication, and preconstruction are no longer optional considerations. There is too much on the line to overlook the obvious advantages of these processes. Contractors that master the ability to bring new practices to the jobsite and improve the entire electrical construction process are going to be better at containing cost, mitigating risk, protecting timelines, and reaping more profit from projects. Our next generation electricians must understand those needs and adopt the attitudes that contribute to success. Everyone must be involved in discovering ways to bring things to the jobsite in a manner that improves the overall process.
The development and proliferation of technology are rapidly changing the way we interface with project specifications and drawings. The spreading acceptance of BIM as a necessary tool for building construction means that we need more skills to understand and utilize its benefits. “Augmented reality” helmets and hardhats are being developed that could permit on-site personnel to access specs and changes to plans in real time. This technology also offers the potential to visualize the construction right in front of them and thus enabling accurate estimates, bill of materials, tool lists, tasks, and other essential information. One example prototype is being demonstrated by DAQRI (www. daqri.com). This technology will be used in new construction and maintenance/ service to increase productivity, enhance safety, speed delivery and minimize errors. The installer of tomorrow needs to learn how to use this technology in order to maximize its advantages.
CHANGING BUILDINGS, EVOLVING ENVIRONMENT
A further impact on training of the next generation of electrical professionals relates to how buildings themselves are changing. Evolving regulations and growing customer demand for energy efficient, sustainable, high-performance buildings will drive demand for new technologies that will deliver sustainability benefits. Energy savings from daylight harvesting and lighting control is now complicated by emerging requirements to add plug load control. Started in California with Title 24, this is going to spread across the country. It is clearly an educational need but also represents an opportunity for contractors to get ahead of the laws and bring their customers along to meet emerging standards.
Beyond new construction, these trends offer numerous opportunities for retrofitting in the commercial office market where 70 percent of existing building stock is 20 years or older. In these buildings sustainability initiatives are a high priority, and facility managers, who are responsible for implementing improvements, are increasingly outsourcing these functions. To remain attractive to tenants, older buildings need to support ongoing functions at the highest level while also delivering energy efficiency. Facility managers and others responsible for operating, managing and maintaining these buildings know that well-planned and executed retrofits turn an out-of-date building into a high performance, energy saving facility that’s equipped for today’s challenges and tomorrow’s changes. This is an opportunity that we need to prepare electricians to recognize and capture.
Energy projects, including alternative sources, microgrids and storage are a fertile field for future growth, especially with a well-trained workforce. Sixty percent of contractors report doing work on some sort of energy projects and this is expected to grow steadily. As standards evolve quickly, electricians will need to prepare for this work. The growing service model for many contractors may benefit from adding continuing education that is built around soft skills like business development, recognizing up-sell opportunities and customer relationship development – professional skills that take technical ability to another level. Today, everyone is carrying smart devices that permit on-demand learning where technicians can access information to add relevant knowledge to their technical skills permitting them to be consultative in every customer interaction.
It’s possible to create electrical workers who become a dedicated team of subject matter experts who are able to consult with – and guide – the customer as well as provide the needed technical skills that deliver power, light and communications. Adding business skills alongside the technical skills acquired during training will produce workers who contribute to financial success in this new environment.
Steve Killius is Vice President, Contractor Industry Affairs and Programs, for the Electrical Wiring Systems Division of Legrand, North America, an IEC National Bronze Industry Partner and Partner in Learning.